Arabic-speaking men briefly kept off US flight

Mr Maher Khalil (left) and Mr Anas Ayyad were kept from boarding a flight from Chicago to Philadelphia on Southwest Airlines.
Mr Maher Khalil (left) and Mr Anas Ayyad were kept from boarding a flight from Chicago to Philadelphia on Southwest Airlines.

NEW YORK • Two men were kept from boarding a flight from Chicago to Philadelphia because they were speaking in Arabic, one of several incidents reflecting public paranoia in the United States sparked by the Paris attacks, which was carried out by Islamic State in Iraq and Syria (ISIS) militants.

Mr Maher Khalil and Mr Anas Ayyad were told by a gate agent at Midway Airport on Thursday that a fellow passenger had overheard them speaking in Arabic - and was afraid to fly with them.

The two friends, reportedly of Palestinian origin and in their late 20s, were eventually allowed on the Southwest flight, but only after being questioned by airport security and police. Once on board, Mr Khalil said some passengers made him open a white box he was carrying - filled with, it turns out, sweets. "So, I shared my baklava with them," he said.

Similar incidents have reportedly taken place on other US domestic flights. ISIS has threatened attacks in the US.

In France, anti-Muslim incidents, including attacks on women, have flared up in the wake of the Paris attacks. The National Observatory of Islamophobia reported 32 anti-Muslim incidents during the week, up from the usual four to five complaints.

On Wednesday, a man punched a young veiled woman in Marseille and slashed her clothes with a box cutter, calling her a terrorist.

Another veiled woman was rammed by a shopping cart and kicked by an assailant inside a grocery store in a suburb of Lyon the same day, said Mr Yasser Louati, spokesman for the Collective against Islamophobia in France, an independent organisation.

France's five million-strong Muslim minority is Europe's largest and makes up about 8 per cent of the population.

Anti-Muslim graffiti has also shown up in several buildings and mosques, including in Paris, Evreux in northern France, and in the small town of Pontarlier, near the Swiss border.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on November 22, 2015, with the headline 'Arabic-speaking men briefly kept off US flight'. Print Edition | Subscribe